Monday, November 14, 2005

HOW INTELLIGENT DESIGN CAME TO ME

Steve Fuller is a professor in the Sociology Department at Warwick University. He testified as an expert witness in favour of ID in the Dover, Pennsylvania trial.
His background is the study of the history of science and the philosophy of science and has written the following books on these subjects:

Social Epistemology
Indiana University Press.
Philosophy of Science and Its Discontents
Guilford Press, New York.
Science
Open University Press
The Governance of Science: Ideology and the Future of the Open Society Open University Press.
Thomas Kuhn: A Philosophical History for Our Times
Knowledge Management Foundations,

After contacting him with regard to his debate with Jack Cohen he kindly agreed to write a piece for this Blog on his thoughts about ID and its future.

I have never been a ‘religious’ person in the conventional sense, though I was a scholarship student in a Jesuit school before going to university. However, in the 1970s, the Jesuits were more likely to talk about burning draft cards (in protest of the Vietnam War) and Marxo-Freudian accounts of alienation than the intelligent design (ID) of the universe. Recovering the human was a more pressing concern than discovering the divine. Nevertheless, the experience left me with an overall positive impression of Christianity, especially as the source for modern secular conceptions of social progress.

Both my M.Phil. (Cambridge) and Ph.D. (Pittsburgh) were in History and Philosophy of Science. My respective supervisors, Mary Hesse and J.E. McGuire, were renowned for their work interrelating science and religion. While my own research really had nothing to do with theirs, the idea that religion provided intellectual sustenance for science was assumed because it was so obviously borne out by history. Indeed, I have come to believe that the specific form of monotheism developed through Judaism, Christianity and Islam – whereby humans are said to have been created ‘in the image and likeness of God’ – best explains the West’s unique scientific achievement. Certainly Isaac Newton was convinced that he had got inside the mind of God. However, when Charles Darwin tried and failed, he concluded there was no divine intelligence to access. Yet, we live with the semantic residues of Darwin’s quest, since biologists still speak of ‘design’ (‘without a designer’, whatever that means) and, of course, ‘natural selection’, which is a metaphor from animal husbandry – but for what literally? But that is only the academic side of the story. There is also the political side.

The US has always had a ‘difficult’ relationship with religion because of the traumatic origins of the nation. The original British settlers, especially in what became the liberal northern establishment, were wealthy dissenters (including Catholics and Jews) who were prohibited from political participation in their homeland. Henceforth, all attempts to impose a religious orthodoxy would be prohibited – in the name of protecting religious freedom, of course. Thus, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, the trial in which I testified, is classed as a civil rights case. It is not the first time a moral panic has broken out over the prospect that some religiously inspired views might make their way into state-supported schools. The legal response has been characteristically thuggish. Thus, the American Civil Liberties Union bulldozed its way into Dover, Pennsylvania, just as it did eighty years ago in Dayton, Tennessee to turn the Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial into an international sensation.

The intellectual content of the ACLU’s case against ID is largely based on fears about a right-wing religious takeover of the US school system. I don’t doubt that many of ID’s supporters harbour such desires, but the decentralised nature of the school system – which accounts for the seemingly endless court cases involving the teaching of evolution -- makes any such takeover unlikely. Indeed, this is part of the ‘federalist’ genius of the US Constitution. Nevertheless, the ACLU’s eagerness to pursue cases like Kitzmiller, especially given all the other civil rights violations in the US, reflects a profound lack of faith in the wisdom of elected local school boards to resolve these matters. Since schools are funded entirely through local taxes, if taxpayers dislike what is taught, they can always vote against the school board’s members in the next election. (And they do!) In this respect, the US provides a wonderful experimental environment for educational alternatives. Yet, this has not prevented an ingrained paranoid reaction to the slightest whiff of religion in the schools that serves, unwittingly, to stultify the spirit of free inquiry.

I was asked by the defence counsel to serve as a ‘rebuttal witness’ to the experts amassed by the ACLU. I agreed after having read the expert witness statements, which contain some of the most egregiously ignorant abuses of scientific and philosophical authority imaginable. I tried to address the most important of these in my own expert statement, but they continued to proliferate – more egregiously and ignorantly – in the ACLU expert witness transcripts. I don’t know if ID’s hardcore supporters are simply scared or polite, but it would not take much to deflate the significance of the ACLU experts’ claims. I tried to do this in my own court testimony, but in the end I was mainly trying to shore up ID’s scientific credentials, not deconstruct those of the ACLU’s experts. Nevertheless, I have plenty of notes about this and hope to be invited to publish them to a wide audience.

Finally, what do I think of ID’s own prospects? ID is currently stuck in the Neo-Darwinists’ image of them. Its proponents lean too heavily on the evidence against evolution. They too quickly reach for God and don’t make enough of the idea that ‘design’ is a concept indifferent to the life/non-life distinction. People (mostly younger ones) who generate virtual realities on computers and biotechnology in laboratories are quite happy to blur the life/non-life distinction, imagining themselves in a God-like capacity. They are a natural constituency for ID, and should be cultivated. That the inventor of the computer, Charles Babbage, and the founder of genetics, Gregor Mendel, were devout Christians who thought they had decoded the divine programme should be used to greater effect in promoting a positive image of ID. The problem with falling back on old William Paley is that his design argument presumed that people (e.g. David Hume) had already expressed doubts about its validity. Why waste time defending the possibility of an Intelligent Designer when you could show how presupposing its existence enables you to break new scientific ground?

Steve Fuller

8 Comments:

Anonymous secondclass said...

Nevertheless, I have plenty of notes about this and hope to be invited to publish them to a wide audience.

I hereby invite you to publish them. Blogger.com is a free and easy-to-use venue.

You make some very strong claims which stand in sharp contrast to the outcome of the trial. I'll read your expert reports, and I'm interested to see your notes.

12:56 am  
Anonymous Barry said...

Um, your account of the status of religion in the original 13 colonies is a bit incorrect. Please start with:
http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2007/01/steve_fullers_strange_argument.php
and proceed to any history of the US which has good coverage of the period 1600-1800.

3:06 pm  
Blogger kevinwparker said...

The intellectual content of the ACLU’s case against ID is largely based on fears about a right-wing religious takeover of the US school system.

No, we have fears about lies being taught to our children.

ACLU’s eagerness to pursue cases like Kitzmiller, especially given all the other civil rights violations in the US, reflects a profound lack of faith in the wisdom of elected local school boards to resolve these matters.

Like the wisdom of the school board members in Dover who obviously lied under oath?

Since schools are funded entirely through local taxes, if taxpayers dislike what is taught, they can always vote against the school board’s members in the next election.

What is taught in the schools should not be decided by majority vote. If it were, many American schools would be teaching Biblical creationism.

In this respect, the US provides a wonderful experimental environment for educational alternatives.

So you have no problems with our children being experimented on at the whims of crackpot school board members?

Yet, this has not prevented an ingrained paranoid reaction to the slightest whiff of religion in the schools that serves, unwittingly, to stultify the spirit of free inquiry.

We have a little thing over here called the First Amendment. Perhaps you should review it.

3:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The original British settlers, especially in what became the liberal northern establishment, were wealthy dissenters (including Catholics and Jews) who were prohibited from political participation in their homeland. Henceforth, all attempts to impose a religious orthodoxy would be prohibited.

This statement is so absolutley, stunningly, utterly wrong that it makes you look like a blithering idiot.

I can't even bring myself to read the rest of your post after being assaulted by a statement so horrifyingly stupid and contrary to the facts.

While the Rhode Island settlement might well be held forth as a bastion of religious tolerance in colonial America, it was certainly not the prevailing attitude.

Almost all of the colonies had official religions, and several demanded orthodoxy to the point of capital punishment. Massachusetts under the Puritans and Virginia under Thomas Dale come immediately to the mind of this non-historian.

The fact that someearly colonies were more tolerant than the European nations the settlers left behind is a far cry from "all attempts to impose a religious orthodoxy would be prohibited"

6:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, but ID will have to do what evolution theory did - wrack up study after observation after expirement after peer reviewed paper after falsible theory to explain things better than the then existing "law" of creationism - before it can be accepted as proper material to be taught in public schools. Any thing less than that is nothing by ignorant politcal power over knowledge-based scientific truth.

2:25 pm  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

kevinwparker said...
>>>>>> The intellectual content of the ACLU’s case against ID is largely based on fears about a right-wing religious takeover of the US school system.

No, we have fears about lies being taught to our children. <<<<<<

The expert witness testimony of Barbara Forrest in the Dover trial was based on a conspiracy theory of a fundy plot to take over the US school system and the rest of the US.

>>>>>> What is taught in the schools should not be decided by majority vote. <<<<<<

And what is science should not be decided by the courts. And BTW, intelligent design was not actually being taught in the Dover schools -- it was merely mentioned.

>>>>>>> So you have no problems with our children being experimented on at the whims of crackpot school board members? <<<<<<<

That's better than being experimented on at the whims of crackpot judges like Judge Jones.

>>>>>> We have a little thing over here called the First Amendment. Perhaps you should review it. <<<<<<

Except that the First Amendment does not apply to the case.

Anonymous said,

>>>>>> While the Rhode Island settlement might well be held forth as a bastion of religious tolerance in colonial America, it was certainly not the prevailing attitude. <<<<<<<

Pennsylvania also had religious tolerance.

Anonymous said...

>>>>>>>Sorry, but ID will have to do what evolution theory did - wrack up study after observation after expirement after peer reviewed paper after falsible theory to explain things better than the then existing "law" of creationism - before it can be accepted as proper material to be taught in public schools. <<<<<<

At exactly what point does a scientific idea have sufficient acceptance among scientists that it may be taught -- or at least mentioned -- in public schools?


My response to a criticism of this post is here.

7:42 am  
Anonymous secondclass said...

Larry said: And what is science should not be decided by the courts.

Agreed. It should be decided by the community of experts, to whom the courts should defer. And that's exactly what happened with Dover.

That's better than being experimented on at the whims of crackpot judges like Judge Jones.

So tell me, where are we more likely to find crackpots who let their crank theories influence their policies and decisions? Among federal judges, or among local school boards?

12:03 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

**** So tell me, where are we more likely to find crackpots who let their crank theories influence their policies and decisions? Among federal judges, or among local school boards? ****

If you were to pose that question to Jefferson or Madison, you would get an unhesitating that it should be local school boards. Jefferson's confidence in the power of average 'husbandmen' to govern their own affairs at the expense of 'genteel elite' is the great genius of our experiment with democracy. Yes, there is great risk: great risk. But for me, I'll is more than worth it.

7:09 am  

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